The Serpent Power

After viewing Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee’s video on “Spiritual Ecology“, which Don linked to in the comments to the last post, in which Vaughan-Lee reflects on the need for new energy as new inspiration, I felt moved to comment further on the serpent power, which is also called kundalini, “ancient force”, “libido”, “psychic energy”, the “vitality”, “personal power” and so on and so forth. In relation to the upsurge of energy as serpent power, I previously drew attention to Blake’s prophecy in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell about the “cherubim with the flaming sword” being commanded to leave his station and guard at the root of the Tree of Life, from which will follow the onset of the “New Age”. As Blake put’s it there also, “Energy is Eternal Delight”.

Let’s look at this matter of energy, so to speak, further.

The Serpent Power, which belongs to Nietzsche’s “Dionysian” and to Gebser’s notion of the “irruption” and “the return of the repressed”, is, in a sense, “beyond good and evil”, in that it can assume both aspects. What determines the aspect it will assume is the attitude of the ego consciousness. To an “enlightened ego consciousness” the serpent power will be benevolent, creative, and protective, while to an unenlightened ego consciousness the same serpent power will manifest as wild, irrational, chaotic, menacing, and destructive. Yet, it is this same serpent energy that Jill Bolte-Taylor calls “Life Force Power of the Universe“.

It is one and the same serpentine energy that Seth refers to as “the ancient force”, in a passage from The Unknown Reality that I quoted at some length earlier in “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature“, where we also read, in part

Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else. You are in a position where your private experience of yourself does not correlate with what you are told by your societies, churches, sciences, archaeologies, or other disciplines. Man’s “unconscious” knowledge is becoming more and more consciously apparent. This will be done under and with the direction of an enlightened and expanding egotistical awareness, that can organize the hereto neglected knowledge–or it will be done at the expense of the reasoning intellect, leading to a rebirth of superstition, chaos, and the unnecessary war between reason and intuitive knowledge.

An “enlightened ego consciousness” is one which can organise and arrange these erupting energies into “new cultural patterns”, which is what William Blake attempts to do with his “fourfold vision” as reflected in his art and poetry, which is the purpose and function, too, of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and quadrilateral logic, and as Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy of structures of consciousness.

To illustrate this ambiguous or paradoxical character of the serpent energy, we can summon as witness Rumi on the one hand and the Buddha on the other. Rumi’s poem “The Snake Catcher’s Tale” speaks to the dark side of the serpent energy when an unenlightened ego consciousness attempts to possess it or manage it. Here, it appears wild, hostile, and massively destructive. It takes the intervention of “a Moses” to pacify it and lead the serpent back into the mountains, Moses here being the symbol of an enlightened ego consciousness.

By contrast, in representations of The Buddha, the Serpent Power is depicted as a benefactor and protector, and the serpent’s head is depicted as a crown, or halo, or nimbus, or the opening of the crown chakra. The only difference between the serpent power of the unfortunate Snake-Catcher of Baghdad and the Buddha is the unskillful or the skillful handling of the ancient force (or primordial energy, kundalini, libido, personal power, etc), which is only the question of an unenlightened ego consciousness or of an enlightened ego consciousness.

Statue of Nagarjuna

Statue of Nagarjuna

We will also take a moment here to comment also on the mysterious ancient statue of Aeon, which fascinated Carl Jung, for here again the serpent power as “ancient force” is represented as being coiled around the composite figure of the winged Lion-Man, the serpent’s head forming a crown, while the man’s head has become a lion’s. This Lion’s Head is the symbolic form of the enlightened ego consciousness, reflected also in Blake’s proverb that “One Law for the Ox & the Lion is Oppression”.


To illustrate the skillful and unskillful handling of the ancient force, or serpent power, I have in the past occasionally referred to one of Blake’s “Memorable Fancies”, as he modestly called them, also from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. And, unfortunately, I have to quote the full length of it before commenting on it,

An Angel came to me and said: ‘O pitiable foolish young man! O horrible! O dreadful state! consider the hot burning dungeon thou art preparing for thyself to all eternity, to which thou art going in such career.’
I said: ‘perhaps you will be willing to shew me my eternal lot & we will contemplate together upon it and see whether your lot or mine is most desirable.’
So he took me thro’ a stable & thro’ a church & down into the church vault at the end of which was a mill: thro’ the mill we went, and came to a cave: down the winding cavern we groped our tedious way till a void boundless as a nether sky appear’d beneath us & we held by the roots of trees and hung over this immensity; but I said, ‘if you please we will commit ourselves to this void, and see whether providence is here also, if you will not, I will?’ but he answer’d: ‘do not presume, O young-man, but as we here remain, behold thy lot which will soon appear when the darkness passes away.’
So I remain’d with him, sitting in the twisted root of an oak; he was suspended in a fungus, which hung with the head downward into the deep.
By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city; beneath us at an immense distance, was the sun, black but shining; round it were fiery tracks on which revolv’d vast spiders, crawling after their prey; which flew, or rather swum, in the infinite deep, in the most terrific shapes of animals sprung from corruption; & the air was full of them, & seem’d composed of them: these are Devils, and are called Powers of the air. I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot? he said, ‘between the black & white spiders.’
But now, from between the black & white spiders, a cloud and fire burst and rolled thro’ the deep black’ning all beneath, so that the nether deep grew black as a sea, & rolled with a terrible noise; beneath us was nothing now to be seen but a black tempest, till looking east between the clouds & the waves, we saw a cataract of blood mixed with fire, and not many stones’ throw from us appear’d and sunk again the scaly fold of a monstrous serpent; at last, to the east, distant about three degrees appear’d a fiery crest above the waves; slowly it reared like a ridge of golden rocks, till we discover’d two globes of crimson fire, from which the sea fled away in clouds of smoke; and now we saw, it was the head of Leviathan; his forehead was divided into streaks of green & purple like those on a tyger’s forehead: soon we saw his mouth & red gills hang just above the raging foam tinging the black deep with beams of blood, advancing toward us with all the fury of a spiritual existence.
My friend the Angel climb’d up from his station into the mill; I remain’d alone, & then this appearance was no more, but I found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moonlight, hearing a harper who sung to the harp; & his theme was: ‘The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.’
But I arose, and sought for the mill, & there I found my Angel, who surprised, asked me how I escaped?
I answer’d: ‘ All that we saw was owing to your metaphysics; for when you ran away, I found myself on a bank by moonlight hearing a harper, But now we have seen my eternal lot, shall I shew you yours?’ he laugh’d at my proposal; but I by force suddenly caught him in my arms, & flew westerly thro’ the night, till we were elevated above the earth’s shadow; then I flung myself with him directly into the body of the sun; here I clothed myself in white, & taking in my hand Swedenborg’s, volumes sunk from the glorious clime, and passed all the planets till we came to saturn: here I staid to rest & then leap’d into the void, between saturn & the fixed stars.
‘Here,’ said I, ‘is your lot, in this space, if space it may be call’d.’ Soon we saw the stable and the church, & I took him to the altar and open’d the Bible, and lo! it was a deep pit, into which I descended driving the Angel before me, soon we saw seven houses of brick; one we enter’d; in it were a number of monkeys, baboons, & all of that species, chain’d by the middle, grinning and snatching at one another, but witheld by the shortness of their chains: however, I saw that they sometimes grew numerous, and then the weak were caught by the strong, and with a grinning aspect, first coupled with, & then devour’d, by plucking off first one limb and then another till the body was left a helpless trunk; this after grinning & kissing it with seeming fondness they devour’d too; and here & there I saw one savourily picking the flesh off of his own tail; as the stench terribly annoy’d us both, we went into the mill, & I in my hand brought the skeleton of a body, which in the mill was Aristotle’s Analytics.
So the Angel said: ‘thy phantasy has imposed upon me, & thou oughtest to be ashamed.’
I answer’d: ‘we impose on one another, & it is but lost time to converse with you whose works are only Analytics.’

As I’ve mentioned in the past, much of Blake’s poetry and mythology is Hermetic Code, and so is this passage, which is a characterisation of the alchemical “transmutation”. Blake was definitely a master and this passage illustrates why, because he was able to “transmute” or pacify the hellish serpent energy/ancient force into something else — a picture of calm and benevolence. and the infernal racket of Hell into music. This is incredibly great skill. And so much so that one might say that Blake is Aeon, who is also fourfold as man, eagle, lion, and serpent. We might even suggest that Blake’s “Albion” and “Aeon” are the same figure as integral being.

Blake’s manoeuvre here is pretty much the meaning of Nietzsche’s “revaluation of values”, too, which is also Hermetic operation or alchemical transmutation of lead into gold, or the ignoble or base element into the noble element. The alchemist’s “crucible” has ever been only the ego consciousness itself, which is ever the “crux” of the matter, which is why Blake situates his “four Zoas” “in the Human Brain”, because the ego consciousness is the crux or crossroads.

So, you find this consistent theme from Blake onwards about the return of the ancient force — through Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Freud and Jung, up to today. And it is a major concern of Jean Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin how we are to handle this “irruption” without totally losing our marbles like Rumi’s Snake-Catcher of Baghdad, or in an orgy of Nietzsche’s “Dionysian madness” (which actually seems to be upon us now in any case).

But there’s always the question: who or what commanded “the cherubim with the flaming sword” to leave its guard at the Tree of Life?



4 responses to “The Serpent Power”

  1. davidm58 says :

    And so the next question is, are there practices that will help us connect to this energy in a healthy way? At the recent Gebser conference Lynlee Lyckberg spoke to me about her perception that integral circles need to look more deeply into Tantric Buddhism, and I agree.

    One (westernized) entry point for beginning to think about this serpent kundalini energy is to watch Anodea Judith’s video on The Illuminated Chakras:

    • Scott Preston says :

      Pretty snazzy video! Very colourful. Brought to mind one of Blake’s proverbs of Hell: “The cistern contains. The fountain overflows”. Nietzsche also uses the symbolism of the fountain in his Zarathustra, and that’s pretty much the ascent of the serpent energy.

      What practices to aid the ascent of the serpent energy? Here again, I don’t think there is one best way. Yoga is one. Castaneda’s tensegrity (or “magical passes”) is another. Nancy Zi’s The Art of Breathing may be more useful to others. Meditation or visualisation exercises may appeal more to others. Allow there are many paths. I’m of the opinion that there must be some underlying logos common to all of them, which may be no more complex than the act of concentration itself.

      I take it Castaneda did perceive directly the chakras in the luminous form (or “luminous sphere” or “egg” as he described how the human form appears to a seer) He didn’t call them chakras, but “vortices” of swirling energy. So, “wheels” or “wheels within wheels”, yes. I don’t think he counted them, though (or how many “petals” they had).

      I deliberately left off the post with a question, though, for that reason. If the kundalini or serpent energy is now ascending spontaneously, which from Blake, through Nietzsche, through Jung and Freud (as libido or psychic energy) and in Gebser’s “irruption” seems to be the common theme, I haven’t a clue what might have triggered that. In any case, it’s part of Gebser’s strategy to know “when to let happen and when to make happen”, so practice, as such, may be moot. It’s happening whether we will or no. Knowing what is happening to us, and being open to its transformative energy in a conscious way, may be our best response to this. In fact, it might be the best practice there is, “let go and let be”, as it were. I’m not sure we would call “let go and let be” a practice at all. It’s what Castaneda calls a “Not-Doing” or Zen calls “No-Mind”.

      This is, for me, the great mystery. Blake believed that the serpent power was beginning it’s ascent in his time, yet I don’t know why. But Nietzsche’s attack on moralism was part of that return, because of the moralistic inhibitions on the expression of the serpentine power. It’s possible that the relaxation of such inhibitions or repressions has been the key event, ie, the walls coming down. I tend to favour this more sociological/cultural account for why the serpent power is in the ascension in the last few generations.

      This is, relatively speaking, a very rapid process if so, and if Gebser is right not just about the irruption, but the manifestation of the diaphainon. Remember, that it took the Buddha 32 “world ages” to realise enlightenment, according to legend (he had, it was said, the 32 “marks of the overman”).

      If Blake is right, and Yoga is right about the chakra configuration, there should be such a pattern in the historical record from Blake onwards. It’s my next big project to try to find that pattern in the historical events of the last two centuries. That is to say, if Blake is right about the ascent of the serpent power, then it should follow the path of the chakras.

      Rosenstock did detect such a pattern, although he definitely didn’t put it in those terms. He noticed that revolutions follow a pattern, that each of the main revolutions in history were separated by four generations — something that, apparently, no one had seen before. Major transformational episodes or events within the last couple of centuries may well be associated with the rise of the “ancient force” as it stimulates those moods associated with the chakra system. It would make sense that it would.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’ve never studied the chakra system, by the way. It might be enlightening to do that. I’ve no idea why specific colours, but especially certain numbers, are associated with each of the chakras. It might be worthwhile to find out.

  2. donsalmon says :

    Sri Aurobindo talks about the descending shakti (the Mahashakti or great shakti) as well as the ascending shakti (the kundalini or serpent power).

    The descent and ascent are taking place eternally, though whichever is predominant – on the microcosmic or macrocosmic scale – determines what “world” we are/appear to be in.

    Consciousness focused at the base chakra is enmeshed, absorbed in the physical consciousness, the consciousness of inertia, dullness, “tamas.”

    Consciousness focused at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th chakras – the chakras of prana or life energy, is absorbed in outgoing, active, rajasic energy…. at the 2nd, the energy of desire, craving, impulse; at the 3rd, the energy of domination, control, and at its best, mastery of life; at the 4th, energy of love and hate;

    Consciousness focused at the 5th, 6th and 7th chakras, the chakras of the mental consciousness, is absorbed in the mental energy which has the potential to balance (but not integrate) rajas and tamas, to stand back and “witness” the lower energies in order to prepare them, to harmonize them sufficiently so the individualized consciousness can realize (Real-ize) the Self which is ever Present.

    The chakras are in fact, meaningless as long as our attention is wholly absorbed in external ‘things” – and never has humanity been more wholly absorbed in the external than in the present age of the deficient structure of mental consciousness; in prior ages the “inner” universal realms, where the free flow of the energies of the physical, vital and mental consciousness were directly perceived, and each individual thing was directly known/felt/sensed as a focus of universal energies, hence things like alchemy, astrology, numerology, etc could be understood in a profound way almost wholly inaccessible to our modern mentalized consciousness.


    From Letters on Yoga, Sri Aurobindo

    Consciousness is a fundamental thing, the fundamental thing in existence – it is the energy, the motion, the movement of consciousness that creates the universe and all that is in it – not only the macrocosm but the microsm is nothing but consciousness arranging itself. For instance, when consciousness in its movement or rather a certain stress of movement forgets itself in the action it becomes an apparently “unconscious” energy; when it forgets itself in the form it becomes the electron, the atom, the material object. In reality it is still consciousness that works in the energy and determines the form and the evolution of form. …….

    It all depends on where the consciousness places itself and concentrates itself. If the consciousness places or concentrates itself within the ego, you are identified with the ego… If the consciousness puts its stress outside, it is said to live in the external being and becomes oblivious of its inner mind and vital and inmost psychic; if it goes inside, puts its centralising stress there, then it knows itself as the inner being or, still deeper, as the psychic being; if it ascends out of the body to the self where self is naturally conscious of its wideness and freedom it knows itself as the Self and not the mind, life or body” (Sri Aurobindo, 1970a; pp.235-36)


    Put simply, at this moment as much as any in all of time and space and beyond, we ARE infinite, open, heartful Awareness. Our “attention” (the stress of consciousness) determines what chakra dominates our thinking, feeling, and acting. our “attention” determines whether we are living on the surface, in the deficient, mental consciousness, or deeper within, in the mythic and magical consciousness, or whether we are free, knowing ourselves as the Infinite.

    As the Zen master said, replying to a disciple who asked for a simple explanation of Zen:


    But, the disciple said, maybe not quite that simple?

    The master replied, “Attention, attention.”

    Perhaps just a bit more?

    The master replied, “Attention, attention, attention.”

    But what does attention mean?

    “Attention means attention.”

    And when our attention is wholly liberated, if we have spontaneously, organically aspired to be instruments for the descent of the Mahashakti, the game now begins (Sri Aurobindo said at times that the “Integral Yoga” begins where most yogas end). Awakening as the individualized Self, the Shakti can descend and completely transform the mental, vital and physical consciousness. Ascending altogether beyond the mental consciousness to the gnostic or “supramental”/Truth-Consciousness, the Shakti ultimately descends to the very roots of the inconscience, the darkness out of which the manifestation began. The very organs of the body ultimately are utterly transformed and a new manifestation begins.

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